Is agility part of your IT strategy?

As IT departments face increasing pressure to do more with less, enterprise architecture could be the foundation on which they build a more agile IT strategy.

Fri, April 19th, 11:32

   

Most enterprises have a familiar cast of characters. For example there’s Stephen in Sales– his targets are locked each year by Frank in Finance. Of course Stephen is out of the office 80% of the time – he’s the classic road warrior – which means he has significant IT needs. He needs to keep working with the sales and order fulfillment support people to ensure he hits his targets, gets his commissions, and can take his family on their sun holiday.

Which brings us to Ian in IT – imagine Ian’s distress as the pressure grows on him to make the applications and services available to Stephen in Sales at all times; even as Ian’s IT infrastructure is starting to creak. You have to feel for Ian: the last 36 months of conferences have told him to embrace the cloud, yet he’s struggling with the concept, and isn’t quite sure how to approach Frank in Finance with an argument that will convince him to make new budget available. If Ian wants to make a change in IT, the message from Frank is clear: Ian will just need to work within the current budget envelopes.

If I were working with Ian, what I’d do is advise him to take a step back. It may be that he does not need a bigger budget, rather a new way of thinking about the IT services he delivers, and a more rational way of delivering them. What he needs is an enterprise architecture.

What’s an enterprise architecture?

The length of the business cycles have changed over the past 15 years: these fast paced cycles are called hyper competition; to survive in this new economic reality, businesses need to be nimble throughout their organisations. IT is increasingly an enabler of this agility: IT underpins change, innovation, services and value perception.

Enterprise architecture (EA) is a framework for articulating this evolution for the business, in technical, and more importantly, in business terms. It creates a common basis for understanding and communicating how systems are structured to meet the business objectives and will create advocates within the business for this evolution.

Based on a 2013 Gartner survey of IT & operational leaders, over 50% of respondents have identified that reducing IT cost was their number one priority. The EA is a key enabler in the realisation of that goal.

The EA identifies the current system deficiencies, those rigid and brittle IT systems with silos of functional data that cannot easily be shared. It identifies some triggers for change:

  1. Change in competitive landscape
  2. Change in business strategy
  3. Change in business processes or resources

It provides the business with a map to a more efficient, nimble IT posture that encompasses emerging trends, cloud, BYOD security and data integrity, and demonstrates how these trends will be relevant to business agility.

What does an enterprise architecture do for your organisation?

  1. It helps convince Frank in Finance that every euro Ian spends on IT is a contribution to the evolution of the business
  2. It is the foundation of the IT strategy for the business, helping galvanise Frank and the rest of management behind the IT strategy
  3. It demonstrates to all stakeholders – Stephen in Sales, Frank in Finance, even Martin the MD – that Ian in IT has a vision that is in concert with the business goals
  4. It allows Ian to identify the parts of the work he can out-task, the elements he can put into the cloud, the applications that must be adapted for cloud delivery and the applications that are far too cumbersome to move to the cloud
  5. It identifies the information security concerns for each of the communities within the organisation (including Sales, Finance, IT, Management)
  6. It provides a roadmap towards better collaboration between the different teams in the organisation

What’s the first step to developing an enterprise architecture?

There are many frameworks for the development of an enterprise architecture: TOGAF, ARCON, the Good enough Architecture Methodology, each with their own merits and processes. The important thing for Ian to understand is the workflows and interdependencies between the different pillars of the enterprise community, and the sub-communities within each pillar.

It’s also important to realise that each of those communities within your organisation has a different perspective on what the core business process is. For example Stephen in Sales would say that the core process is selling; Frank would say it is cash flow. For that reason, it is often useful to map out the core business processes from each person’s perspective, which lets you identify the quick wins for the business.

Often that quick win will be IP telephony – it’s a tangible service, as most workers in the organisation have a desk phone, and most IPT solutions come with some kind of smart phone and desktop integration with messaging.

This means that Stephen in sales can interact in a faster, better fashion with his sales organisation, Ian can create groups of functional users that deliver a better service experience to the external and internal customer communities.

And the financials will make Frank happy. The cost-benefit analysis can be quite simple. TDM system costs €X per year in maintenance and €Y per year in moves, adds and changes. Over three years the IPT Systems cost ((€X + €Y)*3)*0.8), it also comes with greater capacity, flexibility and services. If it is also cloud delivered then it is more resilient – which all adds up to a quick win for Ian in IT as he moves the organisation closer to his vision for what a nimble enterprise architecture looks like.

Ronan McCarthy is eircom’s managed services principal and advises customers on IT & telecommunications best practice.

Ronan McCarthy

eircom Business Centre